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With relatives living 20 minutes away from Disneyland, I went quite a few times when I was a kid. Now that I am a mom living in SoCal, I couldn’t wait to take my kids there and see their expressions as they meet the characters and go on the fun rides.
But as you may know, traveling with small children anywhere is a challenge, especially in a popular, crowded tourist spot like Disneyland. Before we went for the first time, we spent hours researching the best tips for visiting Disneyland with small children. Now, after visiting the theme park over a dozen times, I have compiled the top tips that will make your Disneyland Park trip with your toddlers a success.
I want to share with you 33 tips for going to Disneyland Park with small children. Make sure you get to #32 for the one tip that helped many moms end the day peacefully!
But first, let’s chat about the different parks and one of the most commonly asked questions about Disneyland.
Disneyland Park vs. Disney California Adventure Park
Disneyland Resort has 2 theme parks – Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. They are completely different as each has its own unique attractions, shows, and restaurants.
For the ease of writing, when I write “Disneyland,” I am referring to both parks. Most of these tips apply to both parks, and I will include some park-specific suggestions within the tips as well.
What Age is Appropriate for Disneyland?
One of the biggest questions I hear parents ask is – Is my kid too young for Disneyland? Here are some things to consider:
- If your toddler is still working on walking and need to be held most of the time, visiting Disneyland will be very tiring for you and your kid. If you don’t want to wait, have at least one other adult with you to share the burden of carrying your toddler.
- KIDS UNDER THREE ARE FREE! While some people prefer to wait until the kids are older, my kids certainly enjoyed Disneyland at 2 years old. Take advantage of one less ticket to pay while you can!
- Some rides have height restrictions. If your kid cannot go on most rides, then you may want to wait until he or she is a little taller.
- If your kid is sensitive to the dark and is afraid of characters, perhaps wait until he or she is out of this phase before going.
Tips for Visiting Disneyland with Toddlers
1. Stay at a Hotel Within Walking Distance of the Park
If you are traveling from afar, book a hotel within walking distance of the parks. Especially if you have just flown in and are experiencing jetlag, being able to come and go as you please with your kids could make the biggest difference in your enjoying your day.
Your tired, fussy toddlers may want to take a nap in the middle of the day, but it’s difficult for them to fall asleep when there are so much going on around them. Going back to the hotel for a quick nap (and break for you!) will make the rest of the day a lot more delightful.
Plus, if you ever forget one of the million things we need to pack in the diaper bag, you can always run back to the hotel for it!
Here are a few on-property hotel options for you to consider:
2. Know Your Parking Options
If you are driving in, there are two parking options:
- Mickey & Friends Parking Structure – If you park here, you will go through security first before you get onto the tram that takes you to the park. The tram is fun for the kids because where else do you get to ride a tram?
- Toy Story Parking Area – This lot is a little farther from the theme parks and you ride a bus to get there. You go through security when the bus drops you off. There are multiple buses running throughout the day so you don’t have to worry about waiting for the bus.
After visiting Disneyland multiple times, we see pros and cons to both parking lots. Mickey & Friends Parking Structure seems to be more crowded, but the tram loading area is near downtown (if you want to head to downtown to eat dinner) and it’s a quick ride from the structure to the theme parks and back. Toy Story Parking Area has fewer people but the loading area is farther away from downtown and it takes longer for the bus to go in between the parking lot and the parks.
In the end, I think they are about the same when it comes to
3. Go during the Week.
Disneyland Park can get extremely crowded during the weekend. A ride that usually has a 15 minute wait time during the weekdays could take over an hour to wait for on the weekends. We went on a crowded day and we could barely walk through the people with our double stroller without running someone over.
Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort
4. Check the Crowd Calendar.
Going on a weekday during spring break or other times kids are out of school is like going on the weekend. Before you book anything, ask yourself:
- Am I going on a major U.S. holiday?
- Are kids out of school at this time?
If you are not sure, you can always check the Disneyland crowd calendars to get an idea of the crowd level. Crowd calendars factor in season (not as many people go when it’s cold and rainy), day of the week, school calendars, park events, holidays, and other events that might affect the park popularity.
Here are some of the most popular Disneyland crowd calendars:
Note – The crowd calendars may have different predictions. Just like the weather forecast, the crowd calendars give you their best guess of the crowd level based on their methodologies, but sometimes they can be downright wrong.
5. Buy Your Tickets Online
Lines at the ticket counters on site can be long, and you don’t want to start off the day standing in line with impatient kids. Buy your Disneyland Park tickets online will save you time, money, and headache.
6. Arrive at the Park EARLY.
If you are not staying at a hotel near the theme park and are driving in, arrive at the park AT LEAST AN HOUR EARLY. You will need to wait in line to pay for parking, park the car, wait in another line to go through security, and then wait yet in another line to jump on a tram or bus to get to the park. Then imagine doing this with over-excited, barely awake toddlers.
Assuming you have your online tickets already purchased, you still have to wait in line to get into the park. The earlier you can get into the park, the less wait time you will have for the most popular rides. Which leads to my next point …
7. Go to the Most Popular Rides First.
The park is just going to get more and more crowded throughout the day. So if you manage to be there when the park opens, go to the most popular ride first to minimize the wait in line.
For Disneyland Park, Peter Pan seems to be the one ride people love. On a day with the average crowd, the wait time at the beginning of the day is around 30 minutes. The wait time increases to over an hour by the afternoon.
For Disney California Adventure Park, the most popular ride is hands-down Radiator Springs. Who can pass up the chance to race like Lightning McQueen?
8. Take Advantage of the FASTPASS®.
Have you ever stand in line at a theme park and wonder why some people who came after you get to go in a special line and end up ahead of you? Here is how you can spend less time waiting in line for popular attractions.
What is FASTPASS®?
The FASTPASS allows you to go in the FASTPASS® line (the faster line) instead of the Standby line. Here is how it works:
- You go to the FASTPASS® distribution points to get a FASTPASS. Each eligible ride has its own FASTPASS distribution point, usually located near the ride.
- Scan your park tickets to get a FASTPASS® that is linked directly to that ticket.
- The FASTPASS® ticket has a specific time window in which you must return to go on the ride.
- You can only get one FASTPASS® per ticket every 2 hours.
- When you arrive at the FASTPASS® entrance, scan the admission ticket or annual pass to use the FASTPASS® selection.
- The FASTPASS® does run out so don’t wait until later in the day to get one. Chances are there are no more time windows left by then
What rides have the FASTPASS® service?
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Haunted Mansion
- Haunted Mansion Holiday
- Indiana Jones™ Adventure
- “it’s a small world”
- “it’s a small world” Holiday
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
Disney California Adventure Park
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- World of Color
Expert Tip – When you first arrive at the park, have one person take the kids to stand in line at the most popular ride and the
FASTPASS® distribution points sometimes have lines too and if you wait until later in the day, the only time window left might be too late for your toddlers. Getting a FASTPASS® early in the day ensures that you get to ride TWO popular rides that your kids love without waiting hours in line.
Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort
9. Use Rider Switch.
You are probably still dizzy from me talking about the FASTPASS®, but here is another great feature. If you are going to Disneyland with a baby and a toddler, chances are you will run into rides where the toddler wants to go on but the baby cannot.
The Rider Switch allows parents to take turn waiting with the baby without having to wait in line a second time.
Basically, when you enter the line for the ride, tell the cast member which adult will not be riding the first time. Let’s just say that your partner will be taking your toddler to ride the attraction the first time while you wait with the baby. You will be directed to a designated area to wait.
Then when they finish the ride, you get to enter the attraction without having to wait in the regular line. Now it’s your turn to ride the attraction with your toddler while your partner takes care of the baby.
If your toddler is like mine, chances are he will yell “AGAIN!” right after going on an exciting ride. The Rider Switch is a great feature that allows you to not miss the ride with your child and for your child to experience the attraction one more time without waiting in line.
10. Download the Disneyland App.
This is not a suggestion – DOWNLOAD THE DISNEYLAND APP. You don’t want to walk around from ride to ride without knowing how long you have to wait in line. If your toddler is tired at the end of the day, you don’t want to be jumping on a ride with a 60 minute wait time.
The Disneyland app has updated wait times for all the attractions at the park. You get to check where the characters are and what times they show up. The app also allows you to find restaurants and restrooms, which you will definitely appreciate if you have a toddler going through potty training!
The app has a list of rides that are closed for refurbishments. You don’t want to spend all the effort to walk to a ride that is closed for the day. Whenever we go, I have the app up on my phone pretty much the whole day.
11. Bring a stroller.
Both Disneyland Resort parks are huge, and your child will get tired. You don’t want to get stuck carrying a heavy toddler all day along with a diaper bag that feels like it’s filled with bricks.
Bringing a stroller allows your arms to take a break from carrying your kid. It also gives your child an option to nap in the stroller when he or she gets sleepy.
If you don’t have a stroller or forget yours, you can always rent one at the park.
Note – Disneyland recently updated their stroller policy. Strollers larger than 31″ (79 cm) x 52″ (132 cm) and wagons are not permitted. If you have a double stroller, check the dimensions before bringing the stroller to the park.
12. Use Travel ID bands
As with any theme parks (like SeaWorld San Diego) or other popular destinations, you want to make sure your kids don’t somehow get lost in the crowd. Parent’s worst nightmare! Having a waterproof, durable, and disposable Travel ID Band on your kid’s wrist that has your contact information will give you some peace of mind.
13. Dress in Layers and Bring Extra Clothes
SoCal weather is weird. In the early mornings before the sun is out and in the evenings after the sun goes down, it’s pretty chilly outside. But during the day, the hot sun warms up everything and you want to go around in t-shirt and shorts.
Therefore, dress in layers so you can put on and take off clothes to adjust for the changing temperatures during the day. And as always, bring extra clothes for the little ones in case of accidents or just a messy mealtime.
14. Wear Your Baby.
If you have a baby in tow, wearing your baby in a carrier makes walking around the park a lot easier. Babies love carriers and tend to stay in them a lot longer than strollers. Plus, the motion of you walking around will naturally lure the baby to sleep, giving you more time to pay attention to your toddler.
Make sure you choose a carrier that gives you plenty of back support, especially if you have a heavy baby. Also, find a carrier that you can nurse in so that you can nurse anywhere, anytime. My personal favorite is the Lillebaby The Complete Airflow 360° because the material is breathable, which is necessary for the hot summer months.
15. Bring Refillable Water Bottles and Sippy Cups
With so much walking, you want to make sure you and your kids stay hydrated throughout the day. Instead of paying premium prices for bottles for water inside the park, bring refillable water bottles and sippy cups so you can fill them up during the day at the water fountains.
16. Bring Lots of Snacks.
Luckily, Disneyland allows you to bring food inside. Therefore, pack lots of snacks for your child to munch on while waiting in line.
Your child may be too excited about all the attractions to eat a proper lunch and find himself hungry in the middle of the afternoon. You may want to pack some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or something more substantial than crackers to make up for the missed meal.
17. Bring Distractions for the Long Lines
Besides food, bring toys or other items that your child can play with while waiting in line. Here are some examples of what you can do in line with your kids:
- Play Rock, Paper, Scissors
- Play I Spy
- Read a book
- Study the Disney map (ask your kid where he wants to go next!)
- Play Pat-a-Cake
- Sing songs
- Take pictures
- Apply sunscreen
Disney also recently released Play Disney Parks, a mobile app that will allow you to play interactive adventures and Disney trivia while waiting in line with friends and family.
18. Bring Sun Protection
Ah, sunny SoCal. Make sure your kids are protected from the hot sun by applying sunscreen when you first get to the park and remember to re-apply throughout the day. Bring hats with UV protection to shield your eyes from the sun.
19. Buy Disney Souvenirs Before You Go
If you want to save money, buy Disney-themed merchandise before you visit the theme park. The most popular souvenirs are the Minnie ears for the girls, and Mickey caps for the boys. You can also purchase costumes for your little ones to dress up as princesses or superheroes for the day.
20. Meet the Characters
There are characters spread out throughout the parks throughout the day (you can find where they are on the app). Take a break from the rides and go meet your kids’ favorite characters!
I have to say, the cast members who are inside the Disney characters are GREAT. They interact with the kids, joke with them, and really make the experience magical for them. We are always so impressed with how realistic the cast members portray the characters.
21. Check the Weather Before You Go
This may seem obvious, but you have no clue how many times we forgot to check the weather just because we assume it will be nice out. That’s one of the reasons we moved to Southern California after all!
Even though rain is rare, make sure you check the weather just in case. If it does rain, I recommend bringing ponchos or raincoats instead of carrying around umbrellas. You are holding enough things in your arms (including your kid) as it is!
22. Take Advantage of Mobile Ordering
The Disneyland app allows you to order food from quick-service restaurants on your mobile. This way, your food will be ready for you to pick up by the time you reach the restaurant. I am sure your kids will thank you for not having to wait in line for food when they have already stood in line all day long.
23. Reserve for Character Dining Weeks Ahead of Time
Character dining is a must when you are going with small children. Your kids will love sharing a meal with Disney characters and interacting with them. The price is a bit higher than other restaurants throughout the parks, but it’s so worth it when you see the smiles on your kids’ faces.
While you and your family sit down and have a nice meal, Disney characters come around each table for a meet and greet.
What characters will I see?
Characters vary throughout meals and they vary depending on which character dining you choose. The only guarantee is that the character in the name of the restaurant will be there (e.g. Goofy’s Kitchen will have Goofy).
Do I have to stay at the hotel to book a Character Dining?
Nope! Anyone can book a Character Dining. You don’t have to have a theme park ticket either for the Character Dining restaurants inside the hotels. For Minnie & Friends, unfortunately, you do need a theme park ticket to enjoy the dining option inside the park.
How far ahead should I reserve?
I would recommend booking 2 months ahead of time for reservations. Character Dining experiences are very popular and if you book last minute, chances are you won’t get a table at the time you prefer.
For a list of the different Character Dining options, click here.
Expert Tip – If you are driving in just for the meal, you can park at the hotel and ask the hotel to validate the parking tickets. Parking is free for up to 3 hours with Character Dining.
Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort
24. Make Reservations
If you want to eat at a sit-down restaurant with table service, you should make reservations ahead of time to make sure there are open tables available on the day you go. You may not have to order 60 days ahead of time like the Character Dining, but it’s a good idea to at least check for table availability a few weeks before your trip.
25. Take Care of Your Little Ones at Baby Care Centers
There is a Baby Care Center located at each of the parks. The Baby Care Centers have a nursing room with chairs if you want to breastfeed your baby, changing room with tables, kitchen with microwave and sink, and other helpful amenities that will make it easier for you to take care of your baby.
Baby Care Centers are also great for your toddlers because their restrooms feature child-size toilets.
Note: If your child gets separated from you in the park, a cast member will escort your child to the Baby Center.
26. Take a Break with Indoor or Shaded Shows
A full day of standing in line with your kids is tiring. Let your feet rest and cool off with these entertaining shows:
Disneyland Park Shows:
- Mickey and the Magical Map – Mickey has been left alone with an unfinished, enchanted map and he can’t resist the urge to paint it! This live musical show features several Disney characters, such as Pocahontas, Mulan, Rapunzel, and Sebastian. My kids love it so much that we usually try and catch it twice in one day!
- Storytelling at Royal Theatre – Kids love storytime, but this is no normal storytime. Watch as your hosts reenact Beauty and the Beast or Tangled live on stage!
Disney California Adventure Park Shows:
- Disney Junior Dance Party! – If your kids love music, this is the show for them. Kids get to dance and sing along with the DJs and Disney characters at this high-energy show. There are even bubbles!
- Frozen – Live at the Hyperion – Oh Frozen. If you have a little girl like mine, you have the entire movie memorized by now down to every little detail. Imagine your kid’s face when they watch the Frozen movie in real life! Watching this theatrical interpretation of the Frozen movie is like watching a Broadway show – it is truly spectacular.
I do recommend getting to the show 45 minutes to 1 hour ahead of time if you want seats near the front. We usually use this time for our toddler to take a nap or at least have some quiet, calm time.
You can find the show times on your Disneyland app (see, told you the app has everything!).
27. Choose Age-Appropriate Rides for Your Toddlers
Some rides may sound innocent, but they are actually dark and loud inside. For example, Snow White’s Scary Adventures (I know it has the word “scary” in it, but come on, it’s Snow White!), Pinocchio, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride are not only dark but also have scary noises that might frighten your toddler.
There are also height restrictions on the rides. Use your app to check what the restrictions are so your toddler doesn’t get turned away from the ride by a cast member.
Here are some ride suggestions for your baby and toddler:
Disneyland Park Rides:
- It’s a Small World – One of my kids’ favorite! On a non-crowded day, we went on it 5 times in a row, no joke. Needless to say, the song was stuck in my head all week long.
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant – It’s outside and your kid gets to control Dumbo as it spins round and round.
- King Arthur Carrousel – Toddlers love carousels, and usually the line is not too long for this ride either.
- Mad Tea Party – I dislike teacup rides because they make me so nauseous, but toddlers love to take control of the wheel in the middle and spin the teacup like crazy! How come toddlers don’t get nauseous from dizziness? Are my inner ears just old?
- Disneyland Railroad – This is no normal train ride! This authentic steam-powered train travels through dioramas of the Grand Canyon and the Primeval World. Bet you weren’t expecting to see dinosaurs on a train ride!
We also used the train ride to get from one attraction to another. It’s a nice alternative to walking around with the stroller.
Disney California Adventure Park Rides:
- Golden Zephyr – From afar, this ride looks intimidating because it’s so big and high. However, it’s one of the more gentle rides that your preschooler can go on.
- Jessie’s Critter Carousel – Tickle your kid’s imagination with this giant toy carousel!
- The Little Mermaid – Even though parts of this ride can be dark, the ride isn’t scary. My 2 years old daughter thought Snow White and Pinnochio were scary, but she loved The Little Mermaid ride so much that she went on it multiple times.
- Monsters, Inc Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! – Similar to The Little Mermaid, this ride is a little dim at times (though never pitch black like some of the other rides), but the bad guy really isn’t that frightening. My kids love it and it’s one of the rides with shorter lines.
Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort
28. Listen to Your Child
At the end of the day, you are at Disneyland Resort to make magical memories with your child. Don’t ruin it by setting unrealistic expectations and bring your child on rides that he or she may not want to go on.
Every child is different. Some are afraid of the dark. Some are sensitive to noise. Some does not like to be high off the ground. Whatever your child’s preference is, listen to him or her and pick the attractions accordingly so you don’t end up with a sobbing mess on your hands.
29. Consider Going Downtown
Instead of staying at the theme parks for your meals, you may want to head downtown to grab food. If you are in Disneyland Park, you can even ride the Disneyland Monorail downtown and back.
30. Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour
You get to enter the park ONE FULL HOUR before the doors are open to the general public with Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour.
- Magic Morning – Purchase a valid 3+ day ticket and you get to enjoy one early admission to Disneyland Park.
- Extra Magic Hour – If you are a Disneyland Resort Hostel Guest, you get to enjoy early admission to either Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure during every day of your hotel stay.
Getting in the park early means less crowd and shorter lines. Since toddlers tend to wake up at the crack of dawn anyway, take advantage of this extra hour of fun! You should still arrive early as stated above – in fact, Disneyland Resort recommends that you arrive 1 hour and 15 minutes prior to regular park opening.
Note that early admission is only permitted during the scheduled days.
31. Don’t Miss Mickey’s Soundsational Parade
At Disneyland Park only, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade takes place twice a day. This parade is a true extravaganza. Disney characters will be dancing and singing as they march through the street. There are spectacular floats, costumed musicians, and syncopated dancers that will have your kids singing and dancing along!
Do line up for the parade ahead of time so your children can see the parade. We got stuck behind the crowd once and had to lift our children up above our heads for the entire duration of the parade. Talk about working out.
If you decide to skip the parade, plan to avoid the parade route. Otherwise, you will be stuck in the crowd with the street blocked off so you can’t cross.
Photo Credit: Disneyland Resort
32. Bring Pajamas and Toothbrushes
Here is the big tip that people always thank me for – bring pajamas and toothbrushes so your kids can get ready for the night.
Your kids are going to be tired after a long day at Disneyland. Chances are they will fall asleep on the way back to the hotel or on the drive back home. You don’t want to be dealing with getting them ready for bed after they have already fallen asleep.
I also recommend bringing some wet wipes so that you can quickly wipe them down. Shower can wait until the next day, but at least you can get some sweat and dirt off of your kids before bedtime.
33. Have a Day to Recover
Disneyland is fun, but it’s tiring. Out of all the places we have been to, including SeaWorld San Diego, Disneyland is the most exhausting of all. So plan to have at least one day that is more low-key so you and your kids can recover from all the fun.
Have a Magical Time!
I hope these tips will help make your trip to Disneyland Resort a fun and enjoyable one! It will definitely be a trip your kids won’t forget. Hop over to CityPass to get your discounted ticket for Disneyland Resort and start your magical adventure with your kids!